On some days, it can seem like there are only two types of people who go to the gym. The dilettantes just trying to lose a bit of weight, get a bit fitter, stay in shape. And the ones who seem to take it all a bit too seriously and never seem to actually go home.
This latter group can always be found stalking the free weights area in tight vests with a look of barely contained self-satisfaction and a predilection for checking themselves out in the mirror.
No surprise that this hardcore tribe are often overly territorial about their floor space and, worse, have even been known to wear bandanas.
To the regular man, they can make the very idea of 'lifting' seem faintly ridiculous and narcissistic. That it's not for us. That we're not the type.
Which is why many of us stick to the treadmill, throw in a few machines (frowned upon as amateurish by the vest brigade), finish on some bicep curls and crunches and then hit the shower.
The reality of course is that we shouldn't let this weight-training stereotype cloud our judgement of the facts. Unnecessarily large muscles is only one potential reason for doing weights, and a seriously difficult one to achieve at that.
For the normal gym goer there are plenty of lesser-appreciated benefits that actually make regular, and occasional heavy, lifting a pretty essential plan for any otherwise sedentary office worker who has even half an eye on his long-term welfare. Here's a few.
It burns belly fat better than cardio
If there's one reason many of us do any exercise in the first place, it's to shift fat from around the middle. A fact not necessarily known by us occasional exercisers is that lifting weights is proven to be a far more effective way to get rid of this belly fat than steadily spending hours on the bike or running machine. A 12 year Harvard study found that men who lifted weights for at least 20 minutes every day accumulated half as much abdominal fat than those who just did cardio. The study also discovered that even 48 hours later you still burn more calories than those who didn't lift any weights.
It boosts your testosterone
The bad news? Testosterone levels start falling after 30 and can affect a variety of physical traits from sex drive and sperm production to energy levels and bone density. The good news? Regular weight training can help. Not only by providing a post-exercise testosterone boost but achieving muscle growth and fat loss over the longer-term, both of which are proven to help maintain healthy levels.
It's surprisingly good for the brain
The 'meat head' model of men with muscles not being very bright is longstanding and regularly backed up by any encounters with nightclub doormen, however more recent research indicates long-term training can improve cognitive functions including memory and has also been linked to improvements in depression, sleep problems and self-esteem.
It makes you better at the other sports you do
Whether it's work five-a-side, the odd game of golf or even running, it doesn't take a sport scientist to tell you that regular strength training can improve your performance in your sport of choice compared to training that only includes cardio. It's no coincidence that the young generation of golfers spend as much time in the gym as they do on the practice putting green.
It reduces your chances of dying early
That's right, a significantly lower risk of death from a whole host of killer disorders. Quite a compelling reason to do something, no? Weight training can boast a plethora of evidence to support a lower incidence of various deadly diseases including diabetes, cardiovascular disorders, hypertension and even a 40 percent reduction in cancer risk. Surely the clincher for anyone planning on sticking around. Those guys in the vest must be on to something.
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